The future for labels

28 November, 2008
Campden BRI's law expert Dr David Leeks gives us the lowdown on a draft Regulation, set to have a big impact on food labelling
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The EC Commission has published a proposal to update and simplify the complex and long-standing rules that control food labelling. As a Regulation, the final text adopted will apply directly in Member States, without national redrafting or the scope for gold-plating. This would prevent, more reliably than previously, the emergence of bar-riers to trade between Member States on the basis of food labelling inconsistencies. Negotiations are ongoing and the final text may be significantly different from that currently proposed, but bakery manufacturers and retailers need to be aware of what's on the table.
ScopeThe Regulation will apply to all foods intended for the final consumer. Supply of raw materials, such as flour and intermediate products like shortening, from one business to another is therefore outside the Regulation's scope. The draft title 'Provision of food information to consumers' reflects this and that the Regulation applies not only to labelling, but also to other forms of accompanying material, including that provided electronically, such as on a website or verbally, across a high-street counter for example.Changes to controlsMany provisions remain unchanged, such as food naming and ingredient listing rules, the flexibility to use commercial documents in some cases, and specific exemptions or additional requirements for particular products.l Foods sold looseFor foods sold loose, or non-pre-packed foods, each Member State will, as now, have control over what information is shown on its national market, but businesses must be in a position to give consumers information on food names, ingredients lists, allergens and durability dates. It is proposed that clear information about the presence of 14 listed allergens must be shown for non-pre-packed foods as they are on packaged foods.l At a distanceProvision of information for pre-packed, distance-sold foods traded by mail order or over the internet is addressed specifically for the first time. Most information must be provided before purchases are concluded, but a few particulars, including the date mark, may be provided only at the point of delivery.l Quantity indicationsIt is unclear whether the national flexibility with regard to quantity indications will continue. In the UK, this flexibility allows, for example, bread rolls and small loaves to be sold by number rather than by weight. It is not known whether this is an intentional change, but the Food Standards Agency was made aware by trade bodies, including the UK Baking Industry Consultative Committee (serviced by Campden BRI), that this issue needs resolving. l ClarityThe draft Regulation requires mandatory information to be in a font size of at least 3mm and presented with a significant contrast to the background. Even though small packages are exempt, there is a view that this requirement is impractical. The FSA's governing board believes that clarity relies on more than just font size. Meanwhile, the European food and drink trade association, the CIAA, is developing a Code of Practice on legibility, which it hopes will head off a statutory font size.l Origin labellingOrigin labelling remains voluntary, unless its absence is misleading. However, if origin information is given, and the origin of the product differs from that of its significant or characterising ingredients, then separate references to these ingredients' origins must also be made - for example a Scotch pie made with Argentine beef.l Nutrition labellingOne of the biggest changes is that, with limited exemptions, nutrition labelling will become compulsory on pre-packed foods. Further, information on energy and some nutrients must be given in the principal field of vision (as defined). These nutrients are fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates with specific reference to sugars, and salt. Further provisions address tabulation, ordering, units and declaration basis, including by reference to percentage reference intakes, etc.l TimetableIt is thought that the Regulation may be agreed and enter into force in 2010. At present, a period of time to use up old stocks of packaging beyond 2010 is specifically provided only in relation to the introduction of the minimum font size and of compulsory nutrition labelling. However, the Regulation recognises the need for a more general transition period.

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